interview for QRD march 2, 1996 conducted by tape & mail
Jarboe – originally perhaps. many years ago, Iíd say around í86 or so, the audiences were larger & there seemed to be more interest in our work in europe. & we spent a lot of our time living in europe, recording in europe, & touring in europe; much more than in the u.s. now, the last couple tours the audiences have been much better here in the u.s. & I think weíre becoming a little bit better known. albeit in an underground way – a cult way which seems to be how we are perceived; which is unfortunate actually because that has never been our intent. the intent has been to just do our work & be as open to as many people as possible.
QRD – what country are you most popular in?
Jarboe – I donít know. Iíd say actually now, the netherlands, holland, the city of amsterdam is always very good for us. brussels in belgium is always a good concert for us. the countries of norway, denmark, & sweden are pretty good for us also. Iím sure Iím leaving some place out, copenhagen definitely.
QRD – do you like the amount you play live? would you like to play live more or less?
Jarboe – I love playing live. Michael really enjoys doing the concerts. itís just that because we donít have any financial support or backing when weíre on the road, in order to make it feasible economically, we have to do one nighters. we have to be a different place essentially every night. so that means covering huge distances in a very short amount of time. so for example on the last tour that would mean arriving in a city, setting up gear, doing a sound check, doing a concert, packing up the gear after the concert, getting in the van & driving to the next city, or in the case of europe driving to the next country. so weíre talking about many hours, sixteen hours more or less traveling non-stop & then doing a show in a state of exhaustion. after a couple of months of that I began to really feel wiped out. you just become like a zombie. so I donít like that, because I want to be one hundred percent & energized & refreshed & relaxed & ready to give my all to the audience. when youíre in a state of constant exhaustion this is very very difficult. when you feel like you could pass out at any moment on stage youíre so tired, I personally feel really bad because I feel like Iím not able to give everything Iíd like to give to the show to the audience. so, I would enjoy doing more concerts if there could be a way of doing them where we could have a night off more often to rest & to recover.
QRD – when you play, live you often play songs that have not yet been released, is there any particular agenda behind doing this?
Jarboe – yes, we donít like the idea of a lot of people today using tapes. & when you go to the concert live, certain groups, it sounds exactly like the album. & weíve always hated that, because we think that it should be an experience thatís only happening at that one time during one night. & itís something thatís not available on a recording. itís an immediate experience. itís organic. itís alive. & thatís our attitude & our approach towards live performance is that itís organic, that it changes. as far as doing new songs, itís just a way of keeping ourselves interested, because we do have an attitude of moving forward & we donít like stagnation. thatís why the style of the music has grown & changed so radically. because we have a rather forward thinking & progressive kind of attitude in the work. constantly evolving, constantly challenging ourselves, keeping ourselves interested so we are putting fourth something we give out to the audience instead of just repeating something that we have memorized & then executing it like a set piece. thatís not what weíre interested in.
QRD – does it seem strange to you how many musicians site you as an inspiration?
Jarboe – there havenít been that many musicians that have publicly come out saying that. we know through the grapevine of the professional musicians that weíre acquainted with & the people that we work with that know other artists whoíve gone on perhaps to become very popular & sell millions of records, that perhaps that there has been a time in the music of Swans that they were really getting a lot from that & it was really helping them to shape their own sound. so, I donít know that we think itís strange, we are aware of it. but perhaps some of these people donít feel the need to be as public about it, & sometimes that seems odd to me. because you get to a certain level & there certainly shouldnít be any insecurities in citing your influences or aspirations.
QRD – was the band Circle X an influence to the early Swans? was anyone in particular?
Jarboe – I donít know. the early Swans, you know Michael isnít here. Michaelís doing a spoken word tour of europe right now, I think heís in london at the moment. the early Swans I know Michael listened to the Stooges a lot, Iggy Popís first group, & I suppose he liked the Germs also. I donít know about Circle X, about if that played any kind of part of anything.
QRD – do you have any albums that youíre particularly proud of that youíve done?
Jarboe – there are moments on the Children of God album that I have to say I still feel in awe of & Iím still very very pleased with. I also like The Great Annihilator album for the most part & there are several songs on my own solo albums Thirteen Masks, Beautiful People Limited, & then my last one Sacrificial Cake that I can enjoy. I can kind of step back & distance myself from it & be somewhat objective about it. you can always think your own work could be better. itís always very hard to listen to your work once youíve done it & youíve put it out, because it can be kind of painful to listen to it; at least for me it is. & Iíd rather be creating & writing new work than dwelling on the past.
QRD – do you have any favorite films?
Jarboe – well I go through moments, through chunks of time, when I see a lot of films & I get something from sections of films. Iím generally not pleased with films as a whole, but Iíll get images or Iíll get ideas from certain films that inspire me or exhilarate me. I like the film The Last Temptation of Christ a great deal. & I recently saw Angels & Insects. I loved Francis Ford Copollaís version of Dracula. I liked certain parts of the film Restoration, which I just saw. I have a tendency to really like over the top epic productions. Michael on the other hand likes the more street wise kind of films like Leaving Las Vegas, Casino, Pulp Fiction, this kind of thing.
QRD – do you believe humans should bring other humans into the world?
Jarboe – well, thatís an interesting question, because the world is way over populated right now. & basically I feel like itís irresponsible to have a child unless you have the right amount of money & the right amount of education & the right amount of time to commit to doing that job. I think itís horrible of people to just think nothing of having a lot of children & theyíre very poor. over population is, now itís been said many times before & Iíll just repeat it, over population is the number one problem of this planet. so, yes I feel very strongly about not having children or being in a position to have one child & being able to do it properly. most people should not have children & certainly I believe strongly in abortion & I believe in birth control very very strongly.
QRD – is alcohol still the Swans drug of choice?
Jarboe – well, gee... alcohol has never been something that I would praise. Michael has had a problem with alcohol for years. when I first met Michael & the lineup of Swans, at that time in 1984 I went on tour with them as a roady. at that time I was a weightlifter & I was straight edge in the true meaning of it at that time. & my job essentially ended up being carrying Swans up & down steps & holding things together because every single person was drunk most of the time including Michael. that is not something that is positive or that is good, itís very destructive; like all drugs itís a very destructive thing to get into. now Michael is not involved in that to the degree that he was. he still drinks, but he doesnít drink like he used to. he doesnít completely lose himself & drink himself into oblivion, nor would he recommend that to anybody. but "is it a drug of choice?" no is the answer to that.
QRD – many of your songs bring up the theme of killing, especially children, does it refer to the mind or bodily harm?
Jarboe – well, this is a question for Michael. Michael has an interest in the subject of serial killers. heís read a lot of books on the subject. his first song "Young God," off of the Raping a Slave EP, that song, & of course his record company Young God Records is taken from that song title – & by the way, the group from switzerland the Young Gods, they stole the name for their band from Michaelís song, Michaelís song came years before the group – anyway, "Young God" referred to Ed Gein, the guy who was portrayed in Psycho. so I guess that was when he first got interested in it, but he follows that kind of thing & he has a lot of books on various serial killers. I donít think itís the cheap thrill or morbid aspect of it that interests him; I think itís the kind of delusional, grandiose, manipulative aspect of it. indeed thinking that you are a god, that you can take a life at will for your own sexual pleasure, which is whatís behind a lot of the killings from these people.
QRD – how was the name Swans originally picked as the title for the group?
Jarboe – the name Swans, Michael says it was just arbitrary. he wanted something that was a neutral title. but, as heís been quoted as saying, he was not unaware of the irony of the name. because of course when you think about a swan & then you think about the music that the group was doing when the name was picked, the music was very very brutal, possibly the loudest ugliest most brutal music thatís ever been recorded. & to call that sound Swans was extremely ironic & I think kind of brilliant.
QRD – what feeling towards the human race do you feel to be most mature: love, hate, ambivalence, or indifference?
Jarboe – well, I personally would say tolerance.
QRD – why have Children of God & Burning World gone out of print? will they be re-released?
Jarboe – well, theyíve gone out of print due to signing contracts with companies that we became less than pleased with. Children of God is owned by Mute Records in england & thereís a possibility that weíll be able to get that from them. we hope, at some point, but I donít know about the progress of that situation. Burning World of course was through MCA, that was our major label debut & disaster. now we might be able to get a few songs to re-release from that album, but I think MCA wants a tremendous share of the pie to allow us to do that, so it could very well be that it will not happen.
QRD – what lead to reuniting the entire Children of God line up for The Great Annihilator?
Jarboe – using Algis & Norman & Ted for The Great Annihilator recordings, of course they were the musicians on Children of God... to be perfectly honest with you, our desire when we were discussing the line up for the recording of The Great Annihilator was to pull the energy back from that particular line up & to go on the road with that particular line up. & everyoneís attitude at the time was this would be a go for broke situation. that we would really give it our all. because we truly felt that that line up was very strong. & you just canít go home again, you canít go back is what we learned. there were too many ego problems. some of the people who were pulled in for the recordings that had worked on Children of God, some of them wanted a lot of songwriting credit & they wanted the songs to sound the way they wanted them to sound & they really kind of refused to see Michael as the producer & the art director of the music. & so it was kind of like egos clashing & horns colliding, just like billy goats or something. so it just kind of didnít work out. there were a lot of temper tantrums & a lot of things happened in the studio before I even arrived to begin recording my sections. so there was a lot of tension in the air & it was somewhat bizarre. now Bill Rieflin, who of course was in Ministry for years, he really was a calming force on the album & diffused any of that negative energy & really he helped to pull it together because his attitude really was very good & he didnít have any ego involved in it. but it was hell recording it. so after the recordings, it just became very clear that we would be unable to work with those people. now Norman & Al, I think theyíre still working in some groups up in new york city, but I donít know if those groups are really going anywhere. & Ted of course is in this group Prong which is speed metal or something & I donít even know the status of their situation. but I doubt that we will ever work with those people again. having said all that, Iíd like to say that the last line up live, especially the addition of Larry Mullins from the Iggy Pop band & Vudi from American Music Club, they were excellent excellent musicians to work with. & certainly we really donít even want to tour again unless Larry can get involved with it, because he was tremendous to work with. heís an excellent excellent drummer & vibraphone player.
QRD – David Galas from Lycia would like to know if there will ever be space for him as a Swan.
Jarboe – thatís flattering. you know, itís just through people that we meet who recommend musicians, itís really just a friends of friends kind of thing, that we wind up working with who we work with. weíve never, without really knowing someone or a friend of ours knowing someone, auditioned somebody to work with. we really donít have that kind of attitude. a lot of people do, you know a lot of groups that go on the road will have an open audition for people to come in like hired hands who do a job. but weíve never done that. itís always just been people that knew someone & recommended someone as a friend. so itís been very informal for us. so thatís really how we find the people that we work with. now as far as if & when, & I think weíre going to do another tour, it could very well be the last tour under the name of Swans the next one in late 96 or early 97. now we definitely want to work with Larry Mullins doing drums & percussion & of course Iíll be doing keyboard stuff & vocals & Michael will be doing vocals & guitar stuff & probably some sounds. but we donít have at this time any real thoughts about whoíd play the bass or another guitarist or another keyboard player, those are things weíre still working on.
QRD – is "Real Love" a true story?
Jarboe – well, since Michael isnít here
& Michael rarely does zine interviews, or interviews at all for that
matter, I guess youíll never know the answer to that.